It rains in the School Without Walls library.
During inclement weather, a trash can carefully placed beside the table where students come to socialize and study gathers water that falls from the inches-wide hole in the third-floor ceiling. Black trash bags are put over books to keep them dry.
“This school is excellence among the ruins. The building and the facilities are the ruins,” said Sharon Vollin, who has been the school’s librarian for three years. “Every time it rains the roof leaks. When a dog barks, the roof leaks.”
An agreement 10 years in the making between GW and the D.C. public magnet school could mean the library’s rainy days are numbered. The deal, finalized earlier this month, will give GW the parking lot behind the School Without Walls in exchange for $12 million to renovate the dilapidated 125-year-old building. The University plans to erect a residence hall on the parking lot and the F Street tennis courts, which it already owns.
The juniors and seniors currently enrolled at the G Street high school will not see the benefits of the renovations. But for the school’s teachers and other employees, some of whom have spent more time in the building than their students have been alive, the promise of new facilities means a better learning environment.
“Working here has been a real challenge,” said George Reidy, a mathematics teacher who has been at the school for 26 years. “The building has always had problems, but they have exponentially gotten worse.”
“The building has literally been trying to kill people this year,” he said as he pointed to a wall in his classroom. Earlier this school year, Reidy said, a TV monitor fell off the wall only minutes after a student had been sitting right underneath it. In addition, pieces of cardboard are placed over the room’s blown-out windows to keep out the cold.
“It causes concern,” Reidy said, referring to the building’s structural hazards. “It causes (the students) extra stress.” Structural issues in other parts of the building include mildew and falling plaster.
History teacher of 19 years Sylvia Isaac agreed that new and safer facilities will increase student morale.
“A nicer facility is definitely a plus,” Isaac said. “It’s good for the community.”
With the deal concluded but a schedule for renovations yet to be finalized, some teachers, who have heard promises of a new facility for years, are skeptical about the promise that they eventually won’t have to worry about indoor rain and falling monitors.
“That’s the rumor,” Reidy said, referring to renovations. “I don’t know for a fact.”
Some students did not doubt the agreement’s promises, but believed renovations wouldn’t come immediately.
“I think it’s going to happen. I hope it does happen,” senior Lael Coleman, from Northwest D.C., said.
“Not for a while, but I think it will happen,” agreed sophomore Jens Pharr of Tacoma.
Junior Kristin Smith of Southeast D.C. said, “I think it’s going to happen, but it’s going to be a long, laborious process.”